It doesn't matter if you're an entry-level employee, middle manager, or the CEO: If you want other people to look to you as a leader, you've got to act the part.

Putting on your office's version of a power suit doesn't hurt, but you also need to take a cue or two from biology and psychology. 

Deborah H. Gruenfeld, a social psychologist from Stanford University, was featured this week in The New York Times magazine for her work on teaching others how to appear confident. Gruenfeld and Stanford theater instructor Kay Kostopolous have been teaching a class at the Stanford business school called Acting With Power since 2008. The class has drawn interest from a range of pupils, including international students, Olympic athletes, and "overprivileged, overeducated white guys," Gruenfeld told the magazine.

Among the many exercises taught in the class is one that teaches participants the best poses and speech tactics to project confidence. Here are some of the key moves, according to the Times:

  • Take a wide stance. According to some research, "people posed in expansive postures feel more powerful, exhibit higher testosterone levels, and have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol -- all characteristics of high-ranking social status."
  • When you're talking to someone else, be sure to look them in the eye. When someone else is talking to you, look away occasionally. This creates the feeling that you're the dominant member in the group.
  • Don't overexplain or ramble.
  • If you're giving a presentation, use as many spaces as possible in the room. This signals to others that you feel at ease, and thus, like you have all the power in the room. 

All of this may sound a little primal -- and even artificial -- but Gruenfeld's students say founders and CEOs would be wise to learn how people perceive their body language.

Jason Shen, co-founder of the now-defunct startup Ridejoy, watched one of Gruenfeld's webinars a few years ago and wrote about it on his blog, The Art of Ass-Kicking. He wrote that while "entrepreneurs often struggle to fit into existing hierarchies or power structures... Gruenfeld believes that all individuals (this includes entrepreneurs!) must learn how to operate well within a hierarchy if they want to be successful and have impact."

Published on: Aug 12, 2015